• Clodagh Meaney

Why sex workers are the best weapon in the fight against sex trafficking

Today is World Day Against Trafficking in Persons.


When it comes to Ireland's performance in fighting against human trafficking, our Government are continuing to fail survivors.


Just last month, Ireland was placed on a watch list in response to a decline in standards when it comes to treating people who have been trafficked appropriately.


The annual, Trafficking in Persons report published by the US Department of State, downgraded Ireland to their tier two watch list, meaning that they will be continuously monitored for their breach of recommendations.


2017 was the last year that Ireland ranked on tier one, slipping to tier two in 2018 and 2019 before being further downgraded to a watch list for 2020.


According to the report, the Irish government have not obtained a trafficking conviction since the law was amended in 2013 which has "weakened deterrence, contributed to impunity for traffickers, and undermined efforts to support victims to testify."


Due to "systematic deficiencies" in victim identification, referral, and assistance, the country was downgraded and placed on TIP's watch list of countries alongside Romania, Azerbaijan and Bosnia and Herzegovina.


Today, Sex Workers Alliance of Ireland have said that sex workers are the best weapons in the fight against trafficking.


It comes following a long awaited review of the Sexual Offences Act 2017 which governs and criminalises sex work.


Director of the Sex Workers Alliance Ireland (SWAI) and current sex worker, Kate Mc Grew, has said that the review is an opportunity for policymakers to listen to sex workers about how the decriminalisation of sex work will help to keep everyone safer, including those who have been trafficked.


"Globally, sex work prohibitionists have been successful in conflating all sex work as trafficking. This, combined with the fact that other forms of labour draw more trafficking victims into Ireland, has meant that resources are being misspent on a strategy of criminalising the purchase of sex that has not been proven to stop trafficking."

Kate explained that this has also meant that consenting sex workers, working together for safety, which is illegal, have been caught up in so-called brothel raids.


"The only people who have been arrested for brothel-keeping in Ireland have been young, migrant women. The Sexual Offences law 2017 is being applied in a racist way, which has been noted by IHREC."


Speaking about the Trafficking in Persons report, Kate said it highlights how Ireland struggles to identify victims of trafficking.


"No one has been arrested for trafficking in Ireland since 2013. In fact, our laws have caused a 92 percent increase in crime against sex workers. What use are these laws, if not to protect people?"


"The crime of sex trafficking is despicable and we in SWAI condemn it in the strongest way," she said. "It’s unhelpful to separate out sex trafficking from other forms of labour trafficking."


Kate went on to explain that sex workers are the best tool that the state and Gardaí have at their disposal to find victims of trafficking, however due to the criminalisation of sex work this resource goes un-utilised.


"Criminalisation of any aspect of sex work drives sex work underground, making it more difficult to finding those vulnerable to exploitation, including trafficking victims."


"Data shows that sex workers are extremely unlikely to report to the Gardaí after being victims of a crime. Other avenues of reporting and identification should be available to trafficking victims as recommended by this report."


"A firewall is needed between immigration and sex crimes so that undocumented people feel safe to report crimes against them without fear of deportation," she said.


"Prevention of trafficking is key to reducing its prevalence. Oppressive border controls and lack of legal migration avenues, as well as poverty and addiction increase trafficking."


"Now is not the time to increase oppressive laws in the hopes that this will deter traffickers," explained Kate.


"Anti-trafficking laws are often used as a tool of immigration instead of care and refuge. The reality is that in Ireland many more sex workers have been arrested than clients."


Kate said workers are often asked to leave Ireland, or face prosecution.


"This flies in the face of the care and the rights-based approach that the state is supposed to show."


Decriminalisation of sex work is key and is a stance supported by Platform for International Cooperation on Undocumented Migrants, International Labour Organization and The Global Alliance Against Traffic in Women.


"It does not decriminalise the crime of trafficking or coercion, but it moves sex work out of its quasi-legal state and empowers sex workers with labour rights and pathways to justice."


Last year, the Immigrant Council of Ireland provided legal advice and assistance to 27 women and children who were trafficked into the country.


All but 4 of the 27 were trafficked for the purposes of sexual exploitation. 3 were trafficked for domestic servitude and 1 for enforced criminality.

Read more: Immigrant Council helped 27 victims of trafficking in 2019

Read more: SWAI call for decriminalisation of sex work as Ireland is placed on human trafficking watch list

Read more: Current laws are failing sex workers say Sex Workers Alliance of Ireland ahead of review

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